What lifestyle changes can I make to avoid a stroke?

Increasing physical activity, avoiding cigarette smoke and establishing a healthier diet are the most important lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk of stroke. For example, men who walk briskly 30 minutes per day for 5 days of the week have less than half the risk of stroke as their inactive counterparts. If you are a smoker, quitting is probably the most significant lifestyle change you can make, but secondhand smoke and air pollution should also be avoided, if possible. If you are a man who drinks more than two alcoholic beverages per day or a woman who drinks more than one, then reducing your alcohol consumption is a way to reduce your stroke risk. A healthier diet to reduce stroke risk includes more fruits, vegetables and fish in place of low-fiber/high-saturated fat foods. Cutting out high-sodium foods is an excellent way to reduce blood pressure and stroke risk.

Increasing physical activity will help in several ways to avoid a stroke: it will improve blood pressure, weight, cholesterol, and blood sugar. It also improves well-being. If you are overweight or obese, regular physical activity is one of the ways to reduce your weight, which has a significant impact on your health. Stopping smoking is essential, to prevent not only strokes but a multitude of other diseases, such as heart attack, cancer, and lung disease. If you drink more than 1-2 drinks of alcohol per day, this increases risk of both ischemic (blood-clot type) and hemorrhagic (bleeding-type) of strokes, and this should be cut down. Eating a low-salt, low-fat diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains will decrease risk of stroke, improve blood pressure and cholesterol, and increase overall energy levels.

Dr. Audrey K. Chun, MD
Geriatric Medicine Specialist

The following are some exercises you can do to help prevent strokes and other diseases:

  • Aim to do 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise (for example, a brisk walk, a bike ride on level ground or slight inclines, swimming and dancing) five times per week. Increase the time you exercise to enjoy more health benefits.
  • Perform muscle-building resistance exercises that involve all the major muscle groups at least twice a week.

Talk with your doctor about exercise alternatives if you are unable to follow these guidelines.

Dr. Dede Bonner
Health Education Specialist

Your doctor will probably talk about exercise, diet choices, weight management, and smoking cessation. By asking about your personal top priorities, you will know what to tackle first.

Changing all your unhealthy lifelong habits at the same time is nearly impossible. The experts recommend setting smaller and more achievable goals. This is also important because some changes are interrelated, like quitting smoking and managing your weight. Here are smart follow-up questions:

  • Which physical activities would I most benefit from?
  • Do I need to lose weight? How much? Who or what can help me?
  • What diet or program do you recommend?
  • Where can I get help to quit smoking?

Ask your doctor, “What else can I do to lower my chances of having a heart attack or stroke?” The question is very proactive and empowering. Ask for specific advice and recommendations. Your doctor may suggest certain genetic tests or other advanced blood tests to further clarify your risks. The doctor may also mention working with a personal trainer to develop a regular exercise routine or finding a dietitian who can advise you on healthier food choices.

Joane Goodroe
Nursing Specialist

One way to reduce your risk of stroke is to maintain your brain. Strokes are often caused by a blockage in an artery that carries blood to the brain, so keeping your arteries healthy can reduce your risk of a stroke.

At the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Amy Valderrama shares some ways on how to do it: "Eat a healthy diet that’s low in saturated fat and cholesterol, high in fiber, and low in salt or sodium. Maintain a healthy weight. Be physically active. Don’t smoke. And limit alcohol use."

If you or someone you know seems to be having a stroke, call 911 immediately. The sooner you get help, the greater the chances of recovery. And although strokes are more common among older people, they can happen at any age.


These few lifestyle changes can greatly reduce anyone's chances of having a stroke:

  • Reduce salt intake. High blood pressure is one of the leading causes of stroke. Cutting back on salt is one of the most significant steps to maintaining or lowering your blood pressure to a healthy level of 120/80 or below. Try flavoring your food with a variety of spices that may be healthier than salt.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet. Maintaining a healthy balance between your good cholesterol (HDL) and bad cholesterol (LDL) is the best way to prevent high cholesterol, heart disease and the increased risk of stroke. Your cholesterol level should remain at 200 mg/dl or below.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking is not only bad for your lungs, it is bad for your brain, too. A smoker is at twice the risk of having a stroke because smoking damages blood vessels, raises blood pressure and speeds up the clogging of arteries.
  • Exercise. If you are obese or overweight, your risk factors for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes increases and so does your risk for a stroke. Extra weight places an added strain on your entire circulatory system, but aerobic exercise can be a good way to lose those extra pounds and substantially improve your health.

However, there are certain populations that are still at higher risk of having a stroke even after making the proper lifestyle changes. These include adults 55 years of age or older, African-Americans and Hispanics, those with a family history of stroke, and people who have already had an attack or a transient ischemic attack (mini stroke). In addition, women are more likely to die from a stroke than men, although attacks are more common in men.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.